Baxter proud as Exeter stay top after Sale struggle


London (AFP)

Exeter Chiefs' director of rugby Rob Baxter praised his side's resilience after a hard-fought 20-14 win away to Sale on Saturday saw them remain top of the English Premiership table.

"I'm really pleased that we showed enough character to see the game out, but that was a tough old game, there were a huge amount of really big collisions and it was two fully-committed sides," said Baxter.

The top four teams at the end of the regular season will contest the title deciding play-offs culminating in a final at Twickenham.

Exeter outscored Sale three tries to two as they remained ahead of reigning champions Saracens -- the team that beat them in last season's final.

Saracens, without several England stars because of the ongoing Six Nations, eased past Northampton 36-17.

Saracens had the game won at half-time thanks to two tries from Scotland's Sean Maitland as well as scores from Nick Tompkins, former England wing David Strettle and Tom Woolstencroft.

But Mark McCall, the Saracens director of rugby was pleased by the victory but unhappy at seeing his team lose the second half 14-7.

"It was soured a little bit by how we played in the last 20 minutes because we got ahead of ourselves and did things we wouldn't ordinarily do," he said.

Nevertheless the former Ireland centre added: "But this group of players has done very well during the international windows, which have been challenging for us over the past couple of years.

"We've won four out of five games, got 20 points from those matches."

- 'Wasps robbed' -

Wasps boss Dai Young insisted his side had been "robbed" as a result of several decisions made by experienced referee JP Doyle in a 19-14 loss away to Leicester at Welford Road.

The former Wales prop was adamant that Wasps had three tries unfairly disallowed in addition to two first-half efforts from wing Marcus Watson that were awarded.

"There were three disallowed tries and you don't come to Welford Road, get three disallowed tries and win the game," said Young. "That is a game we should have won.

"I cannot feel anything but that we were robbed, to be honest."

To make matters worse, Young's son Thomas went off after just four minutes with a hip injury, casting a shadow over the flanker's availability when Wales continue their Grand Slam quest away to Scotland next Saturday.

"It will certainly be touch and go whether he is fit for next weekend but only time will tell," said Young senior of Thomas.

Elsewhere Harlequins' 31-29 bonus-point win away to Bath meant the London club had won their fifth successive Premiership match.

Bristol moved clear of the drop with a 28-24 win over Gloucester on Friday.

Sunday sees Newcastle, nine points adrift at the foot of the table, at home to second-bottom Worcester in a match that could have a key bearing on the battle to avoid the lone relegation place come the end of the season